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Sunday, March 01, 2009

The personalities of London's airports

This weekend was a special treat: not only did we go to a marvellous wedding in Ireland but we flew out from one airport and landed in another!

I love airports. It's no hardship to me when my fierce punctuality means I arrive far too early. It's not just the shops - mostly I don't bother - but it's the people and plane watching and the different personalities of the airports. Personalities?

London Heathrow is my favourite because it's the one I know best. Because it's a combination of business and leisure, you get a rich tapestry of drama and emotions in Arrivals with people greeting long-last relatives and tearfully waving off relatives to distant climes.

Heathrow bustles and throbs. It may be, as an American visitor once loudly announced, "like a third world airport" in that it is overcrowded and shabby, but the shops are still the best. And there are many quiet, secret little places to sit and muse. Terminal Five is a vast hush of luxury and comfort, very at-odds with the rest of Heathrow and its lurid carpets. It's as if a luxury penthouse was bolted onto a 60s block of flats.

London City is my second favourite and the one I use for short haul. It is literally just 30 minutes away and because it's very small and efficient, you can be off the plane and at home within 45 minutes.

London City is still like an old-fashioned airport in that passengers are treated as individuals and not amoebas carrying bags of dangerous toothpaste. You pay for the privilege: no cheap fares here. And it is mostly businesspeople bustling around in suits. There are signs of gentrification: the airport is expanding, the duty-free is now large and the sweet little Dormier and Fokker twin props are fewer now that the big guns like Lufthansa have moved in.

Gatwick or Gatters as I call it is an airport completely devoid of personality. Who knows what the difference is between North and South terminals! It has a similarly lurid carpet to Heathrow (presumably a bulk buy at Carpets R Us) and despite being very busy it looks empty most of the time. Gatwick has the most abysmal food court. Nasty little overcrowded outlets.

Stansted is the one I avoid. It has nothing going for it. That creepy transit, where the amoebas are silently whisked from one end of the airport to the other! The interminable queue for security. The British tourist in all his tattooed and shorted glory, getting tanked up before Stelios flies him off to some unsuspecting European resort.

So that's the London airports: I can't give an opinion on Luton. I mean, Luton? Why?

I could start on international airports and in particularly the ghastliness of some of the US airports and their woeful duty free and eating experiences, but maybe I will save that for another time.

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